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Tech will turn HR into a ‘productivity department’

HR technologies are moving away from managing staff in favour of helping them become more productive

HR technology is moving away from managing staff in favour of helping them become more productive, as a new wave of innovative technologies starts to arrive in organisations.

Within the next three years, HR departments will start transforming themselves into productivity departments, Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, has predicted.

In the past, most HR technology was designed to make HR departments’ job easier, but proved difficult for employees to use. The result was a loss of productivity, said Bersin.

“HR software that makes you do HR stuff is not being used, and people complain about it. Now vendors are redesigning their applications to be gamified and fun,” he said.

The next generation of HR technology will make employees’ life easier. For example, it will allow managers to define work goals easily and quickly, and let staff give feedback to their boss, and take training when they need it.

“How can I find the learning I need, because I have five minutes now, and an hour next week? How can I reduce my stress at work? These are the things people want to know,” said Bersin.

Businesses are no longer buying HR systems for the features they offer. The top requirements are ease of use and whether they will engage staff.

“If an HR application is not useful, people will not use it, or use it poorly. If you tell people, we want you to spend a week online at the end of the year doing your performance appraisals, you are not going to do it well,” said Bersin.

Most disruptive HR tech trends

  1. Consumerised technology: employee tools, not HR tools
  2. The ‘appification’ of everything: mobile apps as a new HR platform
  3. New software categories: feedback, engagement and culture management
  4. The reinvention of performance and goal management with feedback and check-ins
  5. Pace of innovation accelerating, but engagement still critical 

Source: Bersin by Deloitte

HR departments are now working with developers to design mobile apps that are simple and fun for people to use, and more effective than traditional IT systems.

In one case, an Australian company redeveloped its HR systems, based on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, as a range of mobile aps.

Within the first two weeks of their arrival, 20,000 people had downloaded those apps and started doing things they had never done online, because they were so easy to use, said Bersin.

“Apps are now much more game-like. They have points and nudges, and videos built in, and elements we would see on YouTube or Facebook in the corporate world,” he said.

Uber trends

The biggest trend of all, according to Bersin, is that companies are trying to use technology to help their employees feel more productive at work, despite growing demands on their time.

“Companies are trying to redesign their workplace, their work environment, business and HR practices to make it more engaging to work in a 24/7 never-ending work environment,” he said.

There has been a shift from annual staff surveys to ‘pulse’ surveys that let employees say what they like about their work, what they don’t like, and what they think of their manager.

Technology is also changing the way people can learn new skills. In many companies, if someone goes to the internet to find something out they are overwhelmed by information, while if they go to the company intranet, they find nothing, Bersin suggests.

Others, however, are making it possible for people to make short videos to share their skills, with other employees viewing them when they need them, or when they can find time in their work schedule.

“It really comes down to focusing on what employees need to be productive, and focusing on what employees need, not you. If you do that, in most cases productivity is higher, and you get more out of people,” said Bersin.

Wave of innovation

Traditional big HR software suppliers are improving “by the minute”, but smaller startups are developing a new generation of tools that promise to raise productivity, said Bersin.

“We have had a good five to eight years of consolidating HR technology into talent management suites; now we have a new period of innovation,” he said.

Innovative and exciting tools to manage goals and performance, and which provide feedback to managers, help people learn and simplify recruitment are beginning to emerge, said Bersin.

Businesses are increasingly interested in using technology to promote the health and wellbeing of staff.

Some companies, for example, are offering staff ad hoc challenges – to compete along with the rest of their team to walk 100 miles in a week, for example.

“It sounds silly, but employees like it, and it’s good for the business,” he said.

Companies want staff to say no

Other companies are training people how to say no when they are overloaded because they realise that productivity suffers otherwise.

“Most people are getting too many emails and too many things to do. We are in a wave of simplification.”

As these trends play out, the role of the HR department will change from managing compliance and fairness to helping people become more productive.

“HR is going to have to reinvent itself as the kings and queens of productivity,” Bersin said.

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